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Archive for December, 2013|Monthly archive page

Featured: Conviviality by Paul Walton

In Book Reviews, Featured, history, politics, psychology, review, society, sociology, technology, writers on December 26, 2013 at 14:41

Paul Walton is a journalist, editor and autodidact from Nanaimo most interested in literature and depth psychology.

Enjoy the essay and feel free to comment.

Featured: Ivan Illich: Tools For Conviviality by Paul Walton

Forty years after the publication of that cantankersome and challenging book by Ivan Illich, Tools For Conviviality has never been more inaccessible and never more vital.

There are many misunderstandings and misconceptions about Illich, and even after an interview series on the CBC in the late 1980s (later to be published as Ivan Ilich in Conversation by David Cayley, published by House of Anansi, 1992) anyone could be forgiven for remembering Illich, who died in 2002, as a man of the mind, a thinker, a philosophe, even a genius. This last perhaps comes closest if we recall the word djinn, a “tutelary spirit,” as the OED puts it. Tools For Conviviality might be termed in educational jargon “gifted,” well beyond its years, but it is more like a happy child who longs to share its joy.

This look at Tools For Conviviality began on a computer and taking a cue from Illich in the Cayley interviews migrated to a yellow pad and black pen. Writing by hand highlights a duality arising from Tools For Conviviality, The qualities of pen and paper include intimacy, a private moment of reflection and, if done well, humility. We can use tools on a human scale or be dehumanized by them. Composing on a computer makes demands very different from script, from posture to adjusting the eye to the glow of the electric monitor. The computer is also tentative, with constant attention to the save function and usurping what Illich later relished in In the Vineyard of the Text, about the 12th century abbot Hugh of St. Victor, who tasted the words during peripatetic readings in his garden.

Tools For Conviviality is arguably as close to a political prescription or ideology as Illich ever got. To Cayley he admitted that the essence of the book, the idea of inverting tools as abused by post-industrial interests, didn’t happen as he expected in 1973 — a dramatic Wall Street-style crash — but began to occur ways he did not anticipate. By 1988, he told Cayley, he was seeing more people recovering misused tools, i.e. resuming mastery over them for their own purposes.

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All the best in the New Year!

In Announcements on December 26, 2013 at 13:43

mca

Extended Interview with Vandana Shiva and Jane Goodall by Amy Goodman

In human rights, nature, politics, society, video on December 26, 2013 at 13:22

From: Extended Interview with Vandana Shiva and Jane Goodall by Amy Goodman, Democracy Now!, http://www.democracynow.org

Watch the full interview with Jane Goodall and Vandana Shiva at the recent International Women’s Earth and Climate Initiative Summit, where they discussed their decades of work devoted to protecting nature and saving future generations from the dangers of climate change. A renowned primatologist, Goodall is best known for her groundbreaking work with chimpanzees and baboons. An environmental leader, feminist and thinker, Shiva is the author of many books, including “Making Peace with the Earth: Beyond Resource, Land and Food Wars” and “Earth Democracy: Justice, Sustainability, and Peace.” 
GUESTS
 
Jane Goodall, renowned primatologist, best known for her groundbreaking work with chimpanzees and baboons.
 
Vandana Shiva, environmental leader and thinker from India. She is the author of many books, including Making Peace with the Earth: Beyond Resource, Land and Food Wars and Earth Democracy: Justice, Sustainability, and Peace.


Reposted according to copyright notice from: Democracy Now! website

The Philosopher and the Wolf with Alan Saunders

In animals, audio, ethics, humanities, interview, philosophy on December 9, 2013 at 20:03

From: The Philosopher and the Wolf with Alan Saunders, The Philosopher’s Zone, ABC Radio National, http://www.abc.net.au

Alan Saunders: Hi, I’m Alan Saunders, and this week on The Philosopher’s Zone we’re going to the Sydney Writers’ Festival for a conversation with Mark Rowlands, Welsh-born and now a Professor of Philosophy at the University of Miami.

As a philosopher, he’s concerned with the philosophy of mind and cognitive science, with applied ethics, and with bringing philosophy to a wider audience.

Well he certainly reached a wide audience with his book The Philosopher and the Wolf, an account of the 11 years he spent with Brenin, the wolf, whom he bought when he was an Assistant Professor at the University of Alabama and Brenin was an exuberant, destructive puppy.

Brenin went everywhere with Mark. He had to, because it wasn’t good for the furniture if he were left alone at home. And he travelled in the US, Ireland, England and France.

And what lessons did the philosopher learn from the wolf? Well, many, but one was this: that wolves, unlike us, live without hope. And what is most important in us, is what is left when time has taken our hope from us.

Mark Rowlands: We do spend a lot of our time obsessing about the future and obsessing about the past in the way that no other animal does. The drawback is I think, that we have a hard time making sense of our lives once we’re hooked into time in that sort of way. I think that is one of the drawbacks at least.

Alan Saunders: But we have a hard time making sense of our lives, but on the other hand we do have a project, which involves making sense of our lives. Brenin, the wolf, didn’t have any trouble with making sense of his life, because he just carried on being a wolf.

Mark Rowlands: Yes, because we’re what philosophers call temporal creatures, we experience time in a certain way, as a line stretching from the past into the future. We face a problem. And the problem is we know that there’s going to be an end to this line. And so then we have a fundamental choice to make: what is our stance going to be to the fact that there is an end to the line of our lives? And it seems to me we have two fundamental choices: either we tell stories to the effect that there isn’t in fact an end, that what we think of as the end is not in fact the end, there is something else; we can do that. Or we can live our lives in the acknowledgement that there will be an end.

Part of what I wanted to do certainly in the latter half of the book, was to try and show the ways in which making up stories about there not being an end, about death not being the end, doesn’t allow us to be what we are capable of being.

Listen to the interview & read the transcript

Reposted with permission from: ABC Radio National

How Do We Care For Future People? by J. Hughes

In biology, ethics, humanities, medicine, religion, society, theory on December 9, 2013 at 19:45

From: How Do We Care For Future People?
 Buddhist and Jain Ideas for Reproductive Ethics by J. Hughes, IEET, http://ieet.org

Link to Part 1, Link to Part 2, Link to Part 3

Many questions in contemporary bioethics turn on views about the nature of personhood and which creatures possess it. Christians and many other faiths believe that humans, and only humans, possess a supernatural soul that confers moral significance, that they possess it from conception to death, and that it is not capable of evolution or improvement. Modern secular bioethics, on the other hand, focuses on the emergence and dissolution of a psychological self dependent on the brain. For secular bioethics humans share elements of this psychological self with other animals, the self changes throughout the life course, and it is open to improvement through the use of science and technology. Jainism and Buddhism stand between these views on the self and humanity in ways that can contribute to contemporary bioethical thought.

Buddhism and Jainism can connect with and illuminate contemporary bioethics around a shared belief in an evolutionary trajectory and moral continuity from animal to human to posthuman.

* Buddhism and Jainism differ radically in how they connect with bioethical debates on personhood, with Jains adopting substance dualism and Buddhists closer to neuroscientific reductionism.

* Liberal Buddhists and Jains could, however, set aside literal interpretations of ensoulment and adopt a materialist, neuroscientific view of ensoulment that would permit some abortion and distinguishes between the karma incurred from harming different kinds of animals.

* While some secular bioethicists believe it is permissible to genetically enhance humans and animals, and Abrahamic faiths generally oppose genetic enhancement, Jains and Buddhists would use virtue consequentialism to judge genetic enhancements, approving of those that give future generations maximal opportunity for spiritual growth, meaning not only that enhancement for health and cognitive ability might be obligatory, but also enhancement for moral and spiritual traits.

* Jains and Buddhists are more open to the radical optimism of the Enlightenment that we may transcend our humanness.

Read the articles: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3

Reposted with permission from: IEET

 

The Over-Policing of America by Chase Madar

In ethics, government, law, North America, politics, society on December 9, 2013 at 19:32

From: The Over-Policing of America: Police Overkill Has Entered the DNA of Social Policy by Chase Madar, TomDispatch, http://www.tomdispatch.com

Sometimes a single story has a way of standing in for everything you need to know. In the case of the up-arming, up-armoring, and militarization of police forces across the country, there is such a story. Not the police, mind you, but the campus cops at Ohio State University now possess an MRAP; that is, a $500,000, 18-ton, mine-resistant, ambush-protected armored vehicle of a sort used in the Afghan War and, as Hunter Stuart of the Huffington Post reported, built to withstand “ballistic arms fire, mine fields, IEDs, and nuclear, biological, and chemical environments.” Sounds like just the thing for bouts of binge drinking and post-football-game shenanigans.

Office and retail work might seem like an unpromising growth area for police and prosecutors, but criminal law has found its way into the white-collar workplace, too. Just ask Georgia Thompson, a Wisconsin state employee targeted by a federal prosecutor for the “crime” of incorrectly processing a travel agency’s bid for state business. She spent four months in a federal prison before being sprung by a federal court. Or Judy Wilkinson, hauled away in handcuffs by an undercover cop for serving mimosas without a license to the customers in her bridal shop. Or George Norris, sentenced to 17 months in prison for selling orchids without the proper paperwork to an undercover federal agent.

Read the article

Reposted with permission from: TomDispatch

The Dangers of Totalitarianism by Agnes Heller

In classics, education, Europe, politics, society, world on December 4, 2013 at 21:00

From: The Dangers of Totalitarianism by Agnes Heller, Literal Magazine, http://www.literalmagazine.com

How did our education become so market-oriented?

It happened in the last half-century. Education became market-oriented in two senses. Educational institutions behaved as institutions of the market. They became a market. They were producing young people for certain kinds of professions and young people took a kind of profession in order to get a better salary and a better position. And that’s all wrong, and it’s wrong even from the standpoint of technology, even from the standpoint of physics, chemistry. Because if you teach young people Physics, or Chemistry, which is actually the leading branch in science, the moment they finish school, it won’t be important anymore for these branches of science. But if you learn something general, universal; if you learn higher Mathematics, higher Physics, Greek or Latin language or Logic and Philosophy; all these capacities or abilities to argue and think in abstract notions, to think logically, to concentrate and to contemplate and to memorize; you’ve learned everything that you can actually use later on. It is not specialized subject matter, but you can use it all.

How do you see the 21st century? Is it going to get better or worse?

I don’t see the 21st century, we are at the beginning of it. Think, at the beginning of the 20th century, think about 1912, whether you could have forseen what was going to happen in 1914 or 1933, or 1942. It was impossible. So I think that at the present moment, right now, 2012, one hundred years after 1912, we cannot possibly know what is going to happen in our century. We can only hope it will be better, that it will be far better than the 20th century. If you have in mind this conflict between democracy and totalitarism, especially in Europe, between republicanism and bonapartism, which is a European conflict from the beginning of modernity, in this situation, in this conflict, you have to take the position of republicanism, of democracy, against bonapartism or totalitarian government. And the danger of totalitarianism is not gone; the danger is always present in the modern world, because it is a modern political institution. It was totally wrong when people believed that totalitarianism was something from the Middle Ages, or something reactionary. It is absolutely not the case. It is as modern as democracy. And that is why, in a modern world, you have to face the danger that there can be a war. And so basically, we have to change the world in order to prevent the world from embracing again different kinds of forms of bonapartism or totalitarian movements in States.

Read the interview

Reposted with permission from: Literal Magazine

We Are the Weather by Brian Kuan Wood

In art, economy, North America, philosophy, society, visual arts on December 4, 2013 at 20:47

From: We Are the Weather by Brian Kuan Wood, e-flux, http://www.e-flux.com

The sublime of the nineteenth century was described by Kant as the feeling of watching an avalanche from a distance. A glacier crumbles, a frozen world breaks down, creating awe and shock and awe again, pleasure and horror at the same time—but always at a remove. Today the sublime of the nineteenth century has gone haywire. It’s more like a monster wave. A tsunami as freeze frame. A twister exhaling in slow motion, collapsing a block of South Asian textile factories. A moment of exhilarated foam suspended high up then crashing down to devastate your lives terminally. The razor-sharp spike of an algorithm when it crests, just barely high enough to brush up against the inside of the bubble.

The distance between the observer and the disaster has disappeared. In fact the observer and the disaster might even be the same thing. It’s as if when one bubble bursts, another one expands to become the atmosphere itself. We are standing above the remains and the rubble of the first, but still inside another enclosure that arrives as some sort of psychotic causality. Is there a way out of the market or are we only trapped inside with no escape? Yes and yes! The trouble has to do with being liberated and newly imprisoned in such quick succession. You are watching the storm and being blown and carried away by it at the same time. This is why you may often feel that you’re in competition with yourself, or that you are not yourself at all. You may be a wanderer above the mist, but you are also in the mist.2 The Caspar David Friedrich painting went gray. You think you may be God himself, but you still need Google Maps to find your way through the mist. The wanderer lost his phone and is just trying to get to a restaurant.

In the aftermath of the financial crisis, Wall Street firms made some very interesting adjustments. It is well known that after slashing jobs by the thousands, salaries and bonuses for individual executives reached record highs. But how is this possible? Did executives simply stuff their own pockets with bailout money? Well, yes, but only through a much larger systemic adjustment by which Wall Street firms essentially diverted money away from infrastructure and support staff, clearing the way for a slimmer workforce of highly gifted, self-sufficient, and well-paid geniuses.

Around the same time as the crash, while artists and art institutions feared the worst, many have been surprised to find the field of art as a whole thriving, even in spite of savage cuts to public funding nearly everywhere. Institutionalized austerity seems to remake the artist into a carrier of a much more important technology—one that it becomes increasingly necessary to understand and access. And the sensitive artist still guilty from being an agent of property speculation and gentrification during the boom years of the creative class may not have seen the ruins of that cutesy economy in cities like Dublin.3 As a vanguard of resilience in the face of impoverishment, the artist who beautified low-income or derelict neighborhoods has only more to give, because he or she is also an originator of extra-economic technologies, of ways of living inside and outside of economic relations, of the conquering genius of exemplary survival, with some misshapen idealism that pours forth seemingly endlessly, with or without resources, over and above demands and expectations.

Read the article

Reposted with permission from: e-flux

Women Scholars and the Dynamics of Economic Recession

In economics, economy, education, gender, sociology, universities on December 4, 2013 at 20:38

From: Hard Times: Women Scholars and the Dynamics of Economic Recession by Linda Zionkowski, Berfrois, http://www.berfrois.com

Hypatia, Alfred Seifert, 1901

Hypatia, Alfred Seifert, 1901

While straitened budgets and shrinking resources present difficulties for all of us within the university system, some of the most vulnerable people affected are graduate students. Occupying a liminal space as apprentices within the profession, students enrolled in master’s and doctoral programs often find themselves facing a situation in which opportunities for professional development have become occasions for exploitation. No department, of course, would claim the abuse of graduate students as part of its mission statement; rather, we want students enrolled in our programs to flourish as scholars and teachers and bring credit upon our institutions after they graduate and find employment. But in a climate of financial austerity, our good intentions might actually work to the detriment of our students by promoting a set of established practices—or a culture—that works against their best interests. As women increasingly accept administrative positions, becoming deans, chairs, and directors of graduate studies, we find that the situation of graduate students emerges as an important (and recurrent) concern in our working lives. The remarks and suggestions that I’m offering here are meant to call attention to the complicated dynamic of decreasing resources and increasing expectations and propose ways in which we can help our students create a manageable balance between the two.

One of the foundational assumptions of graduate programs is that they develop students’ pedagogical skills, enabling fledgling academics to become confident and proficient teachers in their disciplines. A review of graduate students’ syllabi, grading practices, and teaching evaluations more often than not shows their dedication to their classes and suggests that they prepare seriously for the career they are seeking. But three developments within our profession — the declining number of lines for tenure-track faculty, stipend stagnation, and outstanding record of accomplishments expected of job-seekers — contribute to the overuse of graduate student labor and to the debt load that causes our students to be complicit in their overuse.

Competition to retain tenure-track faculty lines has grown more intense as university budgets have shrunk, resulting in difficulties with staffing courses; the problem is particularly acute in disciplines where effective instruction requires smaller class sizes. Since a substantial number of writing-intensive general education courses (Freshman and Junior Composition, Introduction to Literature, etc.) are often housed in English departments, the opportunity for overload classes easily presents itself to graduate students, some of whom will give time and energy to teaching that could have been spent on progress toward their degree. Graduate students, of course, are entirely justified in accepting overload assignments, even to their own detriment: tuition waivers often do not cover university fees (which at my institution can run in excess of $3,000 annually), and graduate stipends frequently fall below or remain slightly above the Federal Poverty Guidelines for individuals (estimated at $11,170 in 2012). Moreover, graduate students are compelled to bear the cost of their own professional development: hiring committees look for evidence of sustained academic activity, including presentations at conferences, attendance at workshops, and publications based upon archival research, all of which cost far more than can be managed by graduate stipends and travel awards. For our students, the result is the burden of loan debt, or the absolute necessity for overload teaching, or — most often — a combination of both.

Read the article

Reposted with permission from: Berfrois

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